We Lived Happily During The War (2018)

For mezzo-soprano, piano, percussion

Text by Ilya Kaminsky. Granted in 2018


Workshopped June 22, 2018 at NYU Frederick Lowes Theater. 


6 1/2 minutes


And when they bombed other people’s houses, we
but not enough, we opposed them but not
enough. I was
in my bed, around my bed America
was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house.
I took a chair outside and watched the sun.
In the sixth month
of a disastrous reign in the house of money
in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money,
our great country of money, we (forgive us)
lived happily during the war.

Program Note

This art song uses text from IIya Kaminsky’s poem, “We Lived Happily During the War.”  When I read Kaminsky’s poem for the first time, the idea of the accompaniment conveying the sounds of warfare against the voice is something that I thought could be effective. Ilya Kaminsky wrote this poem to criticize America’s position as a world power.   The poem suggests that many Americans live comfortably while war and destruction is occurring around the world, often due to its foreign policy.  This made me think of how even within the United States some citizens live comfortably with a sense of freedom while other citizens are still fighting for freedom.  I thought about the hypocrisy of “the land of the free” and democracy when this occurs at the expense of others whether within the United States or around the world.  With this piece,  I wanted to express a deep feeling of guilt and revelation at the same time. 

The piece starts off very pensively with an ominous chord that repeats itself. It is then interrupted by a loud, disturbing forearm slam which was supposed to be a bomb. After a couple of seconds, the voice then sings monotony, ‘’forgive us.’’ The music overall has a very pensive and conflicted feel.  At the end of the piece, the singer repeats ‘’we lived happily during the war’’ followed by the bombs and music from the beginning. I purposely wanted the audience to witness these extremely loud noises. I hope this piece encourages people to become more empathetic and aware of the violent impact that social hierarchies have on everyday human beings within and outside of our country.